Live Well, Do Good

The Pandemic: Do Better This Time, Prepare for Next Time

Brandon Sun, May 31, 2021 - David McConkey

I had to double check to make sure I wasn’t reading the Brandon Sun from a year ago. Surely, the paper must be from May 2020? Surely we can’t have gone through more than a year of the pandemic? Have we learned anything? Surely after a year both the provincial government and the citizens can’t be failing this badly?

I write this with great frustration and I know it is easy to stand back and criticize. But we must take stock of where we are at. We can’t forget about this current situation because we must learn to do better, not only for now, but for the next time as well.

Last week a grim medical picture in Manitoba emerged from the government and from a news conference called by a group of physicians and medical school professors. More than 20,000 Manitoba patients have had their surgeries delayed, some dying as they were waiting. We heard that “the situation is catastrophic” and that our health-care system is “in danger of collapse.”

What strikes me is that the two things we should have prioritized are where we are falling down now. The first is bolstering our hospital and ICU capacity to look after the sick. The second is discovering how the disease is being spread so as to know how to slow it down. But again, reading today’s paper is like reading the paper from a year ago. Have we learned anything? And to think that we now have over one-half of the adult population vaccinated with at least one shot! We should be doing much better than before, not much worse.

As to how we should have strengthened our hospital and ICU capacity, I will leave that to the experts to determine. But I am astounded that more wasn’t done. Again, we have had more than a year, and hospital capacity was identified right at the beginning as a top priority. To save our hospitals was the original reason to “flatten the curve.”

Right now we are depending on Ontario to take our sick. But if that was the plan all along, then we have been very fortunate. Because there were times when Ontario was doing worse than Manitoba. What then? And how would we be doing if we did not have half the population vaccinated? So, now we can thank our lucky stars, but vow to do better next time.

On to the second point: figuring out how the disease spreads. The government appears to be mystified (or is not telling us) about how the disease is being spread. This is a critical deficiency because knowing the points of disease spread can guide us in changing our behaviour and where the government can take action like imposing restrictions. But government restrictions come with a cost and we appear right now to not know where best to take action.

“Premier Blames Manitobans for Health Crisis” was the headline of a Brandon Sun story last week. Premier Brian Pallister said that of the almost 300 COVID-19 patients in hospital, more than 40% had not bothered to get tested for the disease. This is an alarming number: apparently they were sick yet living and interacting with the community beforehand.

But the government should be sharing more information about those hospitalized, so we can all know what we could be doing differently. How did the sick people get the disease? Right now, we seem to be guessing. The physicians’ group calls for a more severe lockdown and closure of non-essential businesses. Yet Opposition leader Wab Kinew asserts that many of those who are sick are workers in essential workplaces. If the government knew more and communicated more, we could all take action where warranted. But again, it's like we are back in May 2020 when we really did not know.

Like many folks, I am annoyed with the restrictions banning visiting outdoors with friends and family. From my reading of what has been learned elsewhere, transmission of COVID-19 outdoors is negligible. And outdoor socializing and exercising is regarded as good for mental and physical health.

So if there is evidence showing that any Manitobans are getting the disease from this kind of casual outdoor visiting, then please tell us. Now being submitted to these restrictions leads me to think that our leaders do not know what they are doing, and then have the gall to blame us.

That Manitoba is the worst in Canada and the U.S. for new cases of COVID-19 should be a loud wake-up call. As government and as citizens, we must learn to do much better. For now. And for next time.   

* * * 

See also:

The Role for Today’s Armchair Epidemiologists

Our Leaders Must Tell Us the Truth About the Pandemic

A Local Journal of the 1918 Flu

Here's an Idea: Raise Our Taxes to Pay for Pandemic

Will the Pandemic Shake Canadian Complacency?

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